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Commonwealth journalists call for repeal of repressive media legislation

3 February 2012
Triennial conference in Malta explores new media and new horizons for the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) held its triennial meeting in Malta this week with a focus on journalism and democracy in the new media age.

The programme also explored the future of the Commonwealth and was addressed by Commonwealth Assistant Secretary-General Steve Cutts, who highlighted changes taking place within the Commonwealth Secretariat.

He said the organisation must seize the momentum generated by the recent Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report, with proposals for more focused work and stronger impact. The EPG presented its report to leaders at the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, with 106 recommendations on reform of the Commonwealth.

Mr Cutts called for the Commonwealth to use its tradition of political influence and consensus-building to break down entrenched differences in areas including press freedom and human rights.

Senator Hugh Segal made his first official speech as Canada’s newly-appointed Special Envoy for Commonwealth Renewal. A member of the 11-person EPG, he told delegates: “The Commonwealth, through you, its journalists, should speak up and speak out. Too much silence in the face of too much injustice may lead to the following question: what makes silence the better option? Not speaking out is never the right option.”

Around 80 editors, journalists and academics from Asia, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Australia also heard from the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Malta, Dr Michael Frendo, who stressed the importance of partnerships, highlighting the synergy between the work of the European Union and that of the Commonwealth.

Malta’s Minister of Tourism, Environment and Culture, Mario De Marco, opened the conference, by reflecting on the role of new media and recent global political developments by saying: “A smartphone is more powerful than the sword.”

Over four days, delegates and speakers covered issues including the future of the press, new technologies, democracy and elections, press freedom, media law, sports scandals, and disaster and climate change reporting.

The CJA also elected a new international president for the 36-year-old association, which focuses on skills development and press freedom throughout the Commonwealth.

Rita Payne, former BBC Asia editor, said: “I am honoured to have been elected International President of the CJA at the end of its conference at which delegates unanimously called for the repeal of repressive media laws in Commonwealth countries.”